Maps

DIY Mapping Goes Mainstream

Some of the best images on Google Earth, brought to you by random people.

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Google Earth

Last summer, we wrote about a DIY aerial mapmaking kit from The Public Laboratory for Open Technology and Science that enables anyone with $95, a camera, and some helium to become a citizen cartographer. The project empowers people to document events (oil spills, Occupy protests) that official mapmakers might overlook. But this kind of grassroots aerial surveying (distinct from other forms of grassroots mapping) also has another benefit: It produces bird's-eye images that are sharper and more beautiful than airplanes and satellites can capture.

To that end, a cache of more than 100 maps from the Public Lab project have now been incorporated into Google Earth itself, signaling some nice recognition of rogue mappers (and their DIY data) by the biggest commercial behemoth in the field. If you happen to stumble in your Google Earth wanders across a patch of surprisingly high-resolution landscape, you may be looking at a Public Lab contribution. Or, if you want to go looking for these images with a little less happenstance, you can also find all of them indexed in this Google Earth KML file.

Here are some of the scenes you might find.

Singleton Beach, Hilton Head, South Carolina, by

Adam Griffith.

University of Kentucky W.T. Young Library. Lexington, Kentucky, by ubikcan.

Green Slice, Bush Playground. Lower Ninth Ward, New Orleans, Louisiana, by Shannon Dosemagen, Eric Krugler
Toorcamp 2012. Makah Passage. Neah Bay, Washington, by Mathew Lippincott, Alex Norman.
Foothills Community Park, Boulder, Colorado, by Jeffrey Warren, Mathew Lippincott, Stewart Long.

Zoom in even further on this last one, and you actually make out the shadows of gardeners.

About the Author

  • Emily Badger is a former staff writer at CityLab. Her work has previously appeared in Pacific StandardGOODThe Christian Science Monitor, and The New York Times. She lives in the Washington, D.C. area.